Interesting English Speaking Topics: UK Vaccine Technology
The UK has jabbed 74 million arms, with covid-19 vaccinations. Yet most people don’t understand the medical science or technology that’s being used in these new generation of modern vaccines. So today we are going to use our English-speaking practice lesson as an opportunity to learn what the experts say about the vaccines used in the UK.
It’s quite tricky talking about Covid-19 related topics. With so much information, both correct and incorrect being shouted at people on the internet it makes you want to just keep your head down and avoid the complete mess. However, I think it’s important to listen to my listeners! The one topic I’ve had a lot of requests for podcast ideas has been on covid-19 vaccines.
I’m not an expert on these things, but I’ve taken time to find the views of experts that I would listen to. I’m only going to talk about the vaccines being used in the UK. Even though there are many others from Russia, China and Germany, for example. I’ve tried to reference resources that are fact checked or come from official sources.
Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.
⭐ William Osler, Scientist
I know people like to talk about the problems with vaccines, and the unknowable risks. No medicine is perfect, there is always a risk involved. In the UK there are some (about 280,000 out of 74,000,000) unfortunate people who have not reacted well to the vaccines but for 99.6% of the others in the UK the vaccines have nearly completely removed the risk of dying from covid-19. 10 times more people are dying of flu and pneumonia than of Covid-19 in the UK right now.
Most Unusual Words:
Vaccination Immune Generation Antibodies Pandemic Unknowable Durability
Most common 3 word phrases:
|The Common Cold||2|
|Common Cold Virus||2|
|A Long Time||2|
|In The UK||2|
Listen To The Audio Lesson NowThe mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.
Transcript: mRNA And Traditional Vaccines Explained For Non-Science People
Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English.
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Listening out for topics you are interested in
So we are always encouraging you to suggest new podcast ideas. And one of your suggestions - the technology behind mRNA vaccines. Clearly this is what we call ‘a hot topic’. It seems that vaccines are ‘saving the day’ in our current situation. And the UK is really fortunate to be quite far ahead in this process – everyone who is 18 years or older is now being invited to book their vaccination.
So just a reminder of vocabulary here – the vaccine, VACCINE means the actual substance, the liquid that goes into your arm. And vaccination, VACCINATION – that means the act of vaccinating, or of giving the vaccination.
In the UK, three types of COVID19 vaccine dominate
Now, I’m not an expert, but I’ve taken time to research this. And in the UK, the vaccines on offer are of course, the Astra Zeneca or the Oxford Vaccine, but we also have Pfizer and Moderna as alternatives. I’ve had two doses of the Astra Zeneca.
I know that I’m really lucky, really fortunate to be double vaccinated – while for lots people in the world, they’re having to wait a long time for their vaccine. It did make me feel quite ill though – and the second dose was just as bad as the first dose. But it was fine – I like to think I had a really good immune response to the vaccine, because it felt so horrible! And it only lasted a day or two each time.
Astra Zeneca for most
So the Astra Zeneca vaccine is more the traditional type of vaccine. Scientists took a weak version of the common cold virus from chimpanzees. The ‘common cold’ is what you catch when you have a runny nose and a sore throat – and you use lots of tissues and you sneeze – Atishoo! And you take time off work.
This chimpanzee common cold virus was then changed to include some genetic material from the coronavirus, from COVID19, but not enough to make you ill. When the vaccine goes into your arm, your body then produces antibodies, which are also effective against the actual virus. And so far, this vaccine is proving to be effective against all the variants of the corona virus.
What is an mRNA vaccine?
What’s different then about the mRNA vaccine? Or its full name is ‘messenger ribonucleic acid’ vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna are these types of vaccines. Well, mRNA vaccines teach the cells in your body to make a protein, to make a special type of cell. So once you’ve been vaccinated, the mRNA enters the cells in your arm and triggers your cells to make a protein – one that’s found in the COVID-19 virus.
Your immune system then recognizes this protein as something different, something unusual and it starts to produce antibodies against it, which will enable you to fight coronavirus if you are exposed. So what triggers your body to make antibodies, what triggers your immune response, is a protein that your body has made – rather than your immune response being triggered by something that’s introduced.
Image of first U.S. case of COVID-19. The spherical viral particles, colorised blue, contain cross-sections through the viral genome, seen as black dots. Interesting English listening practice.
mRNA does not appear to affect DNA
So some people have been worried by this. Does it risk changing your own DNA? Well, the story is that mRNA is very fragile, it easily breaks down. This is why it needs to be stored at such low temperatures -70 for instance. So it only lasts around 3 days in your body and then it’s gone. It can’t change your DNA and it means that you haven’t received any COVID19 virus into your body.
One expert likened it to a Snapchat message – here today and gone tomorrow – a set of instructions to your body, which then disappears, leaving you with the required immune response. The advantage is that this type of vaccine is much quicker to scale up when you’re producing it. And the immune response may even be stronger than with traditional vaccines.
So what are the possible downsides? There has been a lot of negative posting and things written on social media, but if you try to research the facts, what are we being told by more responsible sources of information?
Well, firstly mRNA vaccines are new. Or rather, they’re new to being used outside clinical trials. So there’s no long term data – only clinical trial data on this type of vaccine, so that’s limited numbers. And now it’s going into the arms of millions of people, so hopefully this is OK, but there isn’t a long history of using mRNA vaccine. There’s also not been chance to collect data on the long-term effects or on so called ‘durability’, that’s DURABILITY – that means how does it last, how long does the protection last.
The mRNA technology has been around in science, or in science labs since 1990, but it has never made it beyond clinical trials before. Clinical trials are the tests which look at whether the vaccines – or the drugs, sometimes - are safe and whether they’re effective and easy to reproduce and to use. So why did mRNA vaccine not make it beyond clinical trial? Presumably it was just that other types of vaccine were better – or were more suited to the viruses that were being dealt with?
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Another concern expressed previously – does mRNA affect people who have auto-immune conditions, like lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or even allergic reactions? And the concern is will an excessive immune response be triggered by the vaccine in these people, these people with auto-immune conditions? Auto-immune conditions are where the body ‘fights itself’ so is mRNA vaccine the best thing for these people?
Well, I guess we will find out. The risks are being seen as small. And the vaccines are being used on a large scale, so we will have the data. And the official information is always that ‘the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any risks or downsides’. And so once this pandemic is over, we will know much more - we will have much more data on the mRNA vaccine.
A sensible decision in the UK
What I was pleased about this week though – in the UK, the decision was taken not to vaccinate anyone against COVID19 who is under the age of 18 years. Given the very, very low risk from the illness to children and teenagers and the fact that the vaccine cannot be seen as zero risk – I think this is a sensible and proportionate decision. It’s all about risk management – and risk assessment.
Yes, there seems to be an increase in the number of school children being infected at the moment. But are the number of deaths rising? It seems not. Hopefully sooner or later we will get to general immunity in our population – meaning you’ve either had the virus or a vaccine. That will be a good situation.
Wishing you well, wherever you are
I hope you’re OK, wherever you are in the world – and that if you would like to have the vaccination, you’ve either had it or it will be available soon for you. There’s a really interesting link at the end of this podcast’s transcript – to a site which tracks Coronavirus vaccinations and the progress around the world. So it’s live data, constantly being updated – and you can see that the Astra Zeneca vaccine is being used in 148 different countries. Pfizer is being used in 104 countries and Moderna in 54 countries.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.